How To Build Muscle

We have talked a lot about fat loss, but along with the desire to lower body fat, there are more and more women hoping to build muscle and look “athletic” and “defined.”  They are lifting regularly and not seeing gains.  They don’t understand why.  I want to go through a few top reasons why your hard work isn’t paying off in the mirror.

Let me kick this off with a personal example of yours truly.  I had lifted for roughly 5 or 6 years before I caught on to these valuable tips.  I believed things like I’m not genetically capable of gaining muscle or that females are not able to have visible abs.  My lifting consisted of a strength/ weights class (mostly Les Mills Body Pump), and I would do cardio every single time I was at the gym.  I only took one day off per week (if that) and ate small meals every 3 hours (because it speeds your metabolism right?!- please note the sarcasm there).  When I started that regime, I was 115 lbs- skinny but soft.  When I ended this regime about six years later, I was 115 lbs- thin but soft.  Talk about frustrating! An hour or two every single day! Watching what I ate at every meal. Never having desserts after dinner and passing on pasta or the breadbasket at the table and all I could do was maintain.  I ended up just chalking it up to genetics and being thankful I was at least maintaining rather than gaining body fat- at least my clothes still fit.

Then in 2012, I met Eric.  I decided to venture out of Les Mills territory into a group personal training class.  I wasn’t lifting much heavier in the beginning, but I was getting much more volume and eventually stopped picking up the same weights every single session.  I started pushing myself.  I got some tips about eating more protein, more carbs- well, actually, just eating more.  I said “you don’t understand, I gain weight in my midsection and adding food will make me look even softer.  I only look good at 115 lbs”. I hesitantly cut a deal to try it for a few weeks. (not a second more!

I started changing.  I felt like I finally unlocked some secret.  I looked around the gym at so many people who have been going to train day in and day out for years and year without attaining their goal physique.  Getting out of my comfort zone allowed me to see the results I wanted finally.  Below I have the cold hard facts in the form of photo evidence.

The photo on the left is after 5-6 years of doing Les Mills plus daily cardio- 6 days per week (about 120 minutes per session) and without tracking macronutrients. R photo is after tracking plus compound movements with decreased cardio

L without compound movements, without tracking, and HIIT daily. R is less cardio, compound movements, and tracking macronutrients

I wanted to show some examples of when I trained utilizing only boot camps plus cardio versus when I began to incorporate compound movements and less cardio.  As I mentioned, the higher volume cardio combo in the group personal training class did give me definition by helping me to decrease body fat, but I lost the size and shape of my physique without building muscle in the areas I felt I lacked volume such as my glutes and shoulders.

Let’s itemize the particulars of where I was hung up:

The most common should- be- the obvious answer is eating too little and being unaware of it.  It doesn’t matter how much you train if you aren’t eating for your goals you will inevitably fall short and be waiting an eternity for gains that are never going to come.  On my coaching application, I ask applicants how much they are eating per day.  If they don’t know, I ask for an estimate.  The vast majority is off by 25 percent.  If they have recently adopted a “clean” eating lifestyle, they mistake higher volume of food and feeling full to equate to higher calories.  Often, the inverse is occurring.  Track your food and make sure you are eating enough to build quality muscle.  Don’t spin your wheels like I did.

Being afraid to increase calories. I wanted muscle but was too scared to eat more thinking I will get softer (refer to me in the above example).  I was reading a post by Amanda Latona (booty queen) who answered a question for her Instagram followers about how to build solid, muscular glutes.  She said you have to eat, you have to eat a lot, you will gain weight, and you could lose your abs.  If you want to put on muscle and not keep spinning your wheels, you have to be brave enough to eat more.

Lacking the proper programming and intensity could sabotage your muscle-building efforts.  It’s hard to build muscle.  You will have to be working hard.  You can’t show up to the gym and just go through the motions lifelessly and transform in 12 weeks.  You’ll have to increase volume, time under tension, and vary the speed of your sessions to get the hypertrophy (muscle growth) you desire.  Many of my local online clients I suggest using a free training session with Eric to see if they are lifting with enough of the previous characteristics to elicit muscle growth.  Many of them are shocked at the difference between the two workouts.

Forgetting to practice self-care outside of the gym.  If you aren’t sleeping, and working on lowering your stress levels your body will start to react in an undesirable way.  It will spit cortisol out like crazy and cause other hormone fluctuations such as lowering testosterone (you need what you have as a female to build some lean mass). So get your rest and try to reduce stress actively.  I have been practicing controlling my thoughts and meditating.  Oprah has a great free meditation site for rookies like me who are extremely Type A that walks you through the meditation step by step.  You can check that out HERE

Making the mistake of cardio-ing away the gains (new verb).  Over-exercising often happens in conjunction with undereating.  They think they are eating enough plus they believe that cardio won’t affect muscle tissue growth and is the only way to shed excess body fat.  If you aren’t eating enough to build muscle, and are eating in a deficit, plus putting too much cardio on top of that, you likely could be using your muscle tissue as fuel instead of sparing it.

If you want to build quality lean muscle, consider reviewing this list and making sure you aren’t falling victim to one of these pitfalls.  I am finally changing my pancake booty into the backside I’ve always wanted.